5 Ways to Become a More Media-Savvy Parent
By Rachelle Motte
My 10 year old couldn’t sleep the other night because she saw a scary picture in my Facebook feed. An actor I know who specializes in the grotesque shared a picture of himself in stage makeup. Fortunately, I was able to help dispel her fears. I told her about my actor friend, about how much he made me laugh once at dinner, and about how delighted my college roommate was when he gave her his autograph.
Because I knew how to interpret the picture (“there’s Doug in stage makeup!”), I was able to help her place it in its proper context and begin to move past her fear.
That solved the sleep problem. But what about next time?
I need to know how to put difficult images in context for myself if I’m going to help my daughter interpret them, deal with the feelings they evoke, and move on with her life. In other words, I need to work on my own media literacy.
This skill doesn’t come automatically, especially if your school days (like mine) came before the internet exploded. You and I grew up in a culture formed around the written word, but times have changed.
Word and Image
“Images and icons are fast displacing words as the dominant communication system of our culture,” writes former advertising account planner Shane Hipps. (Hipps, 2009, p. 17) “Images have an incredible capacity to generate needs in humans that don’t naturally exist. Every part of our lives is influenced and shaped by the power of the photograph.” (Hipps, 2009, p.75)
As if one major cultural shift weren’t enough, we spend more and more hours per day viewing these images on screens. Harvard Magazine noted in July, 2012, “Kids between 8 and 18 are spending more than seven hours a day on screens, often using more than one media platform at a time.” (Brown, 2012, p. 58)
These shifts from words to images, from paper to screens, have changed more than just our media habits: “The flickering mosaic of pixilated light re-patterns neural pathways in the brain,” writes Hipps. “These new pathways are simply opposed to the pathways required for reading, writing, and sustained concentration.” (Hipps, 2009, p. 78)
There is good news. If you’re aware of these issues and committed to examining and discussing them with your kids, then the growing importance of images and screens needn’t spell doom for your family.
Here are 5 ways you can become a more media-savvy parent:
1) Pay attention to the kinds of media you and your family use. Most adults spend, on average, about 9 hours a day looking at screens. (Wallace, 2016) Do you use these screens actively, or passively? Do you use your tablet out of habit, or would something else fit your needs better? Do those earbuds keep you from building relationships with the other people in the room? (For more great discussions about media and using tech for good, check our Noah’s New Phone: A Story About Using Technology for Good.)
2) Take a closer look at advertising. My kids and I like to “rank” each billboard we drive past. What’s it really selling—a product, or an experience? Next time you see an ad, stop and think for a moment. How does it make you feel? Do you need the product, or do you want that feeling?
3) Become an active movie viewer. Next time your family sees a movie together, commit to spending 15 minutes or so talking about it afterward. What did the movie tell you about the filmmaker’s beliefs? Did the film’s message line up with your own beliefs and values? How can you tell? (For more great discussion questions like this, check out Petra’s Power to See: A Media Literacy Adventure.)
4) Look at great art. You see thousands of images each day—in magazines, online, and on TV, just for starters. What might happen if you also looked at a beautiful piece of art for a few moments each day? Try it for a week and see what you think.
5) Become an early adopter. Don’t wait for your teen to find the next biggest app on her own; get there first, and talk with her about how to use it responsibly. Check back here often for news and updates that will help you stay on top of it all.
Repeat these steps often as your child grows. She’ll ask different questions at 12 than she does at 10. She’s growing up in a world that’s very different from the one in which you and I did. My daughter and I will both need to grow our media literacy skills if we’re going to thrive in this world—and so will you.
For an amazing opportunity to teach your kids how to read images, advertising, social media, fake news, and other media in our culture, check out our new children’s book, Petra’s Power to See: A Media Literacy Adventure. Available on Amazon.
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Rachel Motte is a freelance writer, journalist, and editor whose writing has appeared at CNN.com, in Eagle Forum’s Education Reporter, at EvangelicalOutpost.com, in Jonah Goldberg’s 2010 anthology, Proud to be Right, and in numerous other print and internet publications. She is an alumna of Biola University, the Torrey Honors Institute, The Leadership Institute, and the World Journalism Institute.
Hipps, Shane, (2009). Flickering Pixels: How Technology Shapes Your Faith. Zondervan.
Brown, Nell Porter. (2012, July) The Whistle: An Entrepreneur’s Multimedia ESPN for Kids, “The next generation of sports fans” Harvard Magazine. Retrieved December 11, 2016, from http://harvardmag.com/pdf/2012/07-pdfs/0712-HarvardMag.pdf
Wallace, Kelly. (2016, December 6). How Much Time Do Parents Spend on Screens? As Much as Their Teens. CNN.com. Retrieved December 13, 2016, from http://www.cnn.com/2016/12/06/health/parents-screen-use-attitudes-tweens-teens/